The recent terrorist attacks on Garissa University, Kenya on 2 April, 2015 which resulted in the dead of 148 students by a group, al-Shabab, calls for worry on the part of African leaders, under the African Union system. The African leaders must device a new way of looking at the monster of terrorism in the 21st century.
With pomp and a collective sense of fulfillment, African nationalists gathered in the historic city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 25 May, 1963 to witness the birth of the African regional bloc, the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Amidst the euphoria, the immediate mandate of the new Organization was clear- decolonization. It was with this mandate that the OAU, now African Union (AU) looked at the issues on the continent.
In other to achieve its immediate objective, any means to see this done will do just well as far as the OAU was concerned. One important organ of the OAU at this period was the Liberation Committee whose headquarters was in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This explains why several guerrilla movements like the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), Mau Mau Movement (Kenya), South West African Peoples Organization (SWAPO) in Namibia, Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) and the likes all trained under the guidance of the Liberation Committee.
It is no longer a secret that most, if not all countries that gained independence in the 70s, 80s and 90s did so with the force of arms. With this, it was very difficult for the OAU to precisely define “Terrorism”. If it did, there is no way its definition will not include acts perpetrated by groups like the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa, for instance. The ANC itself was granted an observer status in the Organization. The same ANC was defined as a dangerous terror group by the Apartheid regime in South Africa. This was the OAU dilemma.
All countries in Africa are now politically independent, so the perspective of the African leaders must change. There are no more colonial masters to deal with at least. The changing of name from Organization of African Unity (OAU) to African Union (AU) in the beginning of the century does not mean change in philosophy. The change in name will only be meaningful if African leaders themselves change their way of looking at the present challenge confronting the continent- Terrorism.
Before we go further, let us digress a little. During the Cold War, Africa was a battle ground for Shylock European and Western powers for “spheres of influence”. Crises in Congo DR, Angola, Algeria, Sudan and the likes all have Cold War undertones. The question then is: “Why should Africans be made to suffer from what is not theirs?”
This is not to say that Africa does not issues of its own. At least groups like Boko Haram (Nigeria), al-Shabab (Somalia), Lord’s Resistance Army (Uganda) have African roots, but we can take a bet they will not have been so sophisticated if not for their affiliations with the notorious Islamic State of Iran and al-Sham(ISIS) and the Al-Quaeda Islamic Magreb (AQIM), two groups which intends to turn Africa into a battle ground for their rivalry. This is perhaps the case with Boko Haram and al-Shabab with the former recently pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) fighters and the latter to Al-Queada. The rivalry between the IS and al-Queada has been well documented so it needs no recounting here. It is our take that the Garissa attacks is just a show of relevance by al-Shabab to wade off the growing influence(with the recent allegiance oath by Boko Haram to the ISIS) of the Islamic State on the continent which al-Queada once boasted of! This is our logical explanation for the attacks. We therefore call on African leaders to act fast: Africa cannot be a battle ground for another “Cold War” between ISIS and Al-Queada!
If not for the reckless indecision of some African leaders, groups like the Boko Haram will not have attained their present notorious dimensions. Failed state institutions in Somalia can best explain the rise of al-Shabab. It is at this point that the AU must seek a new mandate by coming in fully to save the continent. It is happening in Kenya today, we do not know the next port of call. If Africa cannot tame these groups with roots in Africa how then can we deal with foreign groups like ISIS and AQIM? The Yoruba proverb says: “The thief at home is the one which brings the thief from outside.”
With the same vigor the OAU now AU fought colonialism, it must deploy a spirited fight against the monster of terrorism. It is time the AU establish its own High Command, with volunteers from member nations in its bid to conquer the monster. The Command must have special operation force, or an Anti-Terrorism Department (ATD), with its own separate secretariat and staff. The ATD must be given the powers of “Unrestrained Entry” in any African country where there is early warning of impending terrorist attacks.
Also the ATD must establish bases in all member states of the African Union as parts of its operation. We are aware of the old question of “territorial integrity” or “Sovereignty” that some might raise. Since terrorists respect no territory or sovereignty, so must every counter-terrorist effort. It is just like fighting cancer, to save the body the cancerous cell or tumor must be removed to every of its slightest trace. So must terror and every trace of it must be expunged from our domains. It takes more than conventional approach to fight terrorism. It is an emergency with no “normal” connotation!
In addition to the noted challenges of AU system, there are other challenges the African leaders face ranging from lack of institutions, processes, and proper conflict analyses’ mechanisms in member states. A good example is Nigeria where the fight against the notorious Boko Haram has been clouded by political opportunism, sycophancy, and clear institutional weaknesses/decay. The fact that the poorer Chadian, Niger and Cameroonian Armies had a successful onslaught against the group relative to a fairly richer Nigeria confirms serious institutional decays in the Nigerian defence system ridiculing the Nigerian so-called fight against Boko Haram!
It is on this note that African leaders must wake up from their self-induced slumber to the new challenge of terrorism. The Garissa University terrorist attacks must be the very last!